I was reminded about a great truth of violin playing while walking the streets of New Orleans today. (I’m in the city for my son’s wedding)
Strolling around the French Quarter, I heard a faint and hauntingly beautiful violin melody wafting from around the corner. Soon I found myself in front of a NOLA street band, enjoying traditional and jazz standards spun out with beautiful tone and a great sense of style.
I absolutely loved the violinist (as well as the other band members), and stood there transfixed for one song after another.
Then suddenly came my facepalm moment: Why haven’t I been doing more music like this? And why aren’t we all?
These are songs that you can learn and perform in a matter of days, even hours. The technical demands are modest, giving you the time and freedom to work on style and personal touches. It’s a chance to drop all pretense and simply have fun.
If you’re like most people, you’ve got at least a song or two you want to play. A violin piece you want to perform. Maybe even a song set to play in a band.
Finding the right songs for a developing violinist can a bit of an art in itself. Choose well, and you gain incredible forward momentum in your playing. You’ve got something you can play for years to come. You gain more choices and options as a musician.
How to Mess Up Your Relationship with the Violin
I know from my own experience, it’s tempting to choose material that is over your head. When that happens you’re not doing yourself (or your listeners) any favor. Struggling with notes for weeks on end locks you up physically and may even leave you with emotional “scars.”
Sooner or later you begin to dread practicing and performing.
This is how we can end the struggle.
In coming weeks I’ll begin introducing traditional/fiddle tunes that you’ll enjoy learning and playing. The objective is to get us both up and running on several tunes in a short span of time.
We’ll tie together the songs with the warm-ups and violin motions we’ve discussed. You’ll see how things come full circle.
The real fun (and learning) happens when you can take these tunes out into the world. Playing for (and with) others adds an important and enjoyable dimension to your musicianship, as my new found New Orleans friends have taken to heart.
If you’d like to come along on a “song quest,” please do me a favor: Click on this link and take my short survey. Near the end you can let me know what song(s) you’d be interested in learning and/or performing.
I’m looking forward to hearing from you. But for now, I have a father-of-the-groom speech to practice and a son to marry off!
Until we next meet, savor your violin journey.
Performing music is by nature a joyful act. Here is a vintage photo of the author, (along with colleagues Kira Blumberg, Colleen Coomber and Ana Maria Maldonado) dressed in our touring garb, and spreading the gospel of string music to young students everywhere.
A very dear teacher who is no longer with us once shared with me: “there is more than enough negativity in the world. Let’s work to make it a more positive place.” That is our best and highest calling as musicians.
Performing feels uncomfortable. Sometimes horribly so. Accept that as a truth and go so far as to lean into your stage fright.
The fear you are feeling signals that you are considering a project that is meaningful and important to your growth as a musician and human being. So acknowledge that being on stage is different than every day life; it’s not like tying your shoes or waxing your car.
Expect the inevitable butterflies, shaky knees and sweaty palms. The worst thing you can do is to try and push away these physical manifestations of how you’re feeling. Instead, go further by looking forward and getting inside these symptoms. Act as a neutral outside observer as the internal/external storm comes and goes. Watch it pass; it always does.
Here’s your transformation: The violin teaches you to release the fear and ignore the transient voices that hold you back. It is a shining, positive force for every part of your personal growth.
As a gigging musician you can focus on the quality work calls you are getting, and how you compare to your friends.
Or you can focus on improving your craft day in, day out. On achieving a greater level of mastery, even if the gigs suck. On staying the course, even if your audience sounds like a field of crickets.
The first path (the path of ego) will drive you to distraction. The path of mastery will always lead to a positive transformation in every part of your life.
How will you become a professional violinist? Or any type of professional musician?
Answering, “I’ll pass out flyers and take any gig I can get” is a quick route to failure. More important, it’s a cop out.
It keeps you from choosing a clear path, as one compromise after another will block your musical and professional success.
As a pro, it’s your job to develop extreme, even epic level skills in a single area. You are not a jack of all trades. You’ll need to fight back against average every time you pick up your instrument.
Do you want to be a symphony player? Then find out what orchestra audition committees are seeking.
A studio musician? How do recording contractors find players they can trust?
A solo or backup performer? Who will pay you to play? And how will that person find you?
You must push your work out to the edges, and learn to embrace the extreme. Average won’t go far toward finding your audience or paying the bills.